They were an embarrassment. Now, Texans are a wonderful surprise.

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Go back in time, not that far back actually, when the Houston Texans were one of the NFL’s greatest embarrassments.

There are numerous reasons why but a significant one was its ownership. When player protests rocked the NFL in 2017, it was reported by ESPN that Houston owner Bob McNair said: ‘We can’t have inmates running the prison.’ Referring to a mostly Black player base as inmates, well, didn’t go over so well.

‘I think it was ignorant,’ Texans player Duane Brown said at the time. ‘I think it was embarrassing. I think it angered a lot of players, including myself. We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on that field, and to use an analogy of inmates in prison, that’s disrespectful. That’s how I feel about it.’

Players were so angry that wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins skipped practice the day after the remarks were made public. McNair would later apologize and then un-apologize.

It was reported in 2021 that McNair’s son, Cal McNair, currently the CEO of the Texans, while at a charity event and in an example of racist language not falling far from the racist language tree, used an anti-Asian remark to describe COVID. He later apologized. Has yet to un-apologize.

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‘My comments at the event … included an inappropriate choice of words,’ McNair said in a statement. ‘I immediately apologized to people who approached me then and I apologize again now. I know how important it is to choose my words carefully. I would never want to offend anyone.’

Then came DeMeco Ryans, the current coach of the Texans. Because of him, the Texans have gone from an embarrassing dumpster fire of racist remarks from ownership, and not one but two Black coaches fired after one season, to someone who is in the running for coach of the year.

In effect, what we’re seeing with Ryans is a Black coach, who is also a former player, so he’s one of those ‘inmates’ Papa McNair mentioned. Who along with his Black quarterback are saving the franchise that hasn’t always shown the greatest respect for Black men in head coaching leadership positions.

What’s the lesson here? There are many. One of them is how the league needs to hold owners accountable for the awful things some of them say. Perhaps the biggest lesson is that Ryans got a sincere and legit look as a head coach. The two Texans coaches before him didn’t. Many Black coaches do not. Ryans has shown one of the things that can happen when owners do.

Ryans is a success story so far and of course a big reason why is rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. Make no mistake, however, what Ryans is doing. He’s changing the culture in Houston and you are seeing his belief system span the entirety of the team. The high energy. The intelligent play. The aggressiveness.

Ryans saw the Texans not just as an NFL franchise but his NFL franchise.

‘I like the fact that this is my team,’ Ryans told The Athletic recently. ‘And to have the chance to come back and help my team? I’ve always followed them. I heard all the negative things said about them, and this wasn’t just an opportunity to become a head coach, this was an opportunity to help my team.’

It’s early and we don’t really know how Ryans will work out. What’s certain is that Houston is a surprising 5-4 and the Texans beating the Bengals last week wasn’t a fluke. This is a good team.

Ryans’ success is also about something else. It’s about opportunities. After two other Black men weren’t given real chances with the Texans, the franchise, hopefully, learned a lesson. Or, at least, was embarrassed into learning one.

Yes, the Texans were a joke. Ryans is transforming them into something else.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY